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August 13, 2017

Downtown Vancouver's Schofield Building infused with new tenants

The Columbian

Tony Brynelson

City program helped land new businesses, revitalize block

A few feet from each other, a pair of new Vancouver businesses are near opening. Storefront windows are papered or tinted with sawdust, while workers hammer away behind the scenes.

It's a familiar sight in Clark County these days, except for the fact that the building is 80 years older than the one that probably comes to mind.

"People need places to shop, places to eat," said Rob Aschieris, property manager of the Schofield Building, across from downtown Vancouver's Smith Tower at Sixth and Washington streets. For 50 years, 10,000 square feet of the building was dominated by a beauty school.

Vancouver School of Beauty, which closed in 2015, "had its day," Aschieris said. "But the whole downtown has turned another direction."

The new restaurants opening next month will complete a transformation for the venerable building, now to be home to two restaurants, a beer-tasting room, a confectionery store and vintage goods shop.

The face-lift is yet another sign of growing demand for downtown restaurants and shopping. Thanks to a city program, property managers are finding help with rejuvenating older spaces and then use those historic facades and locations to attract businesses.

Businesses such as Little Conejo, which will serve tacos and mezcal liquor, are able to find more affordable spaces downtown and get a toehold with customers.

"I really commend our landlord for taking a chance on first-time business owners," said Mychal Dynes, co-owner of the restaurant, set to open in September. "He could have easily put in an Applebee's or a Chipotle, but he didn't. He could have easily made this into a lame block."

More than a century old

Indeed, the history of Schofield Building is fascinating.

Nestled behind the Heritage Building and a stone's throw from the new Hudson Building, it is easy to drive past when you're headed to Interstate 5 or state Highway 14.

The building stretches for a block along the north side of Sixth Street. The Cameo pawn shop and the Top Shelf bar occupy the section along Main, which Aschieris said was built in 1855. A fire in the 1950s has kept its second story unused, however.

A single-story portion of the building is closer to the Washington street. Built in 1936, it houses Nonavo Pizza, Vintage Vignette and Simply Sweets. The brick facade has been kept intact, even as it cycled through tenants ranging from banks to the North Bank Saloon.

"We want to keep the design integrity of these classic buildings," Aschieris, a Schofield descendent, said.

Remnants of past businesses remain. Vintage Vignette, a boutique at 108 W. Sixth St., has a concrete bank vault at the back of its 1,700-square-foot space. Owner Terry Jensen uses it for storage, and sometimes teaches painting classes inside.

"And the combination still works," she said.

But, until recently, the property wasn't considered prime real estate.

Jan Allpress, owner of Simply Sweets, said when she announced she was looking for a new location two years ago, friends told her to steer clear from south end of Vancouver.

"They said, 'Don't go south of the bus (mall),' " she said. "It was kind of risky."

Adapting to new use

Sometimes the older architecture has caused problems. Joey Chmiko, co-owner of Nonavo Pizza, said the flat roof causes water to pool and it used to leak. The Schofield of the present, though, is much improved; and Aschieris attributes that to a city program.

The city of Vancouver launched its Adaptive Reuse Program in 2014 in the hopes of helping owners of historic properties rejuvenate buildings, as bringing them up to modern code could be costly and unwieldy.

The program helps owners tackle the wear-and-tear incurred over the years. The city doesn't directly fund private renovation, but instead introduces property managers to consultants and government programs that can help.

"Often, their buildings have been vacant for a long time and do not comply with current codes, or they are historic buildings that they would like to renovate," city planner Rebecca Kennedy said in an email.

The program addresses one fact head-on: landlords aren't developers, so they often aren't familiar with the permitting process. They also may not be experienced at tailoring a space to be ready to go for a variety of small businesses.

Aschieris said he was working on the former beauty school location - covered in dust and "not looking too good" - when city officials found him and approached him to join the Adaptive Reuse Program. They told him it would help him get new tenants.

"We can't do everything. We're small, we're a family, we're not made of money," he said. "They gave me the pitch and I said, 'Yeah, sign me up.' "

That was 2015. Nonavo Pizza, Simply Sweets and Vintage Vignette each moved in to the Schofield building in 2016. Little Conejo and Beerded Brothers Brewing are expected to open by the end of September.

Similarly, Luepke Station at the corner of 13th and Washington streets underwent the same changes that helped land Tap Union Freehouse. Heathen Brewing used the program when it sought to build outdoor patio space, nearly complete, next to Feral Public House, 1109 Washington St.

Working together

Little Conejo co-owners Mark Wooten and Mychal Dynes are vying for authenticity at their restaurant.

A mud-colored mezcal hut is propped up behind the bar at the east end of the 1,500-square-foot restaurant. It frames a striking blue painting of an agave plant, the root of mezcal. (Like mezcal, tequila is made from agave, but the Mexican liquors differ in their state of origin and flavor profiles.)

Wooten and Dynes spent time in Oaxaca, where mezcal originates, before opening the restaurant. They said they found in the Schofield a historic structure that helps capture the feeling that inspired them to open Little Conejo in the first place.

"A lot of the pictures...used as inspiration for our interior, from Oaxaca and Mexico City - they're buildings that were built in the 1800s and before," he said. "It just kind of fit together to do something kind of historic looking and make it look like it's been there a couple hundred years."

Once up-and-running, Little Conejo will be considered an anchor tenant of the Schofield. Caryl Brown, commercial real estate agent for Kidder Mathews, helped plan the lineup of tenants.

"We wanted food and beverage because we like the activity it creates on the street," she said. "It's kind of how society is these days. I think that's what downtown Vancouver offers its community."

Brown said there are a lot of similarities between downtown Vancouver and the lauded Pearl District in Portland, which flipped historic warehouses into restaurants alongside new high-rise condos. She will try to land a sixth tenant, south of Simply Sweets, once Little Conejo is open.

Ultimately, Brown said it's going to be up to businesses to bring in customers.

"It's up to them to show up and deliver every day. Joey and Alder (of Nonavo Pizza) have shown up every day and the same thing for Vintage Vignette," she said.

The tenants already there say that won't be a problem. And the tenants getting ready to move in say they expect to thrive.

"Hopefully we can make a little block party there," said Beerded Brothers co-founder Max Scudder. "We should be a real popular spot down there."

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